Saturday 30 August 2014

Elite: Dangerous And Here the Wheel by John Harper

Elite: And Here The WheelElite: And Here The Wheel by John Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an action adventure played out across a wide canvass. Set in the world of Elite: Dangerous it’s the 5th of Fantastic Books Publishing’s Elite offerings that I’ve read. Having been bowled over by the first four, I set out with some trepidation into this one, knowing it was going to be different – every book has had a completely different structure and feel – but not sure if it would be as good as the rest. Well, I’m so pleased to be able to say that it is! It’s completely different in setting, tone and pace, but like the others, a delight to read. And Here the Wheel follows the trials and tribulations of a famed pirate, but nothing, including his fame, is quite what it seems. Throwing the pirate into an enforced and uneasy alliance with a woman who hates all pirates with a passion is a useful trick to generate tension and drama – and tension and drama abound in this action-packed space adventure – but the conclusion when it arrives is satisfyingly unpredictable.

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Thursday 28 August 2014

Elite:Dangerous Tales from the Frontier by 15 authors

Elite Dangerous: Tales from the FrontierElite Dangerous: Tales from the Frontier by Chris Booker and 14 others
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the best of the best – from serious nail-biting drama to laugh-out-loud funny

Where to start reviewing this one? At the beginning I guess. The book opens with Crossing the Line by Chris Booker, a very human story of small time traders wanting to break into the big time. A real page turner to draw you into the anthology.

Next in line comes The Comet’s Trail by Darren Grey, an equally good read about a space pilot bounty hunter with cerebral palsy, a rare condition in this future world. Seeing how a lifetime of having to fight for respect pushes her to seek the ultimate prize without hesitation really racks up the tension.

This is followed by A Question of Intelligence by Lisa Wolf. This is a very human story set in an extraordinary world where a daughter’s search for her father becomes a clash of cultures with political wrangling in danger of obscuring the real challenges: ones that mirror things we face right now in the real world.

We bounce out of this story with its cast of thousands, into The Easy Way Out by Ramon Marett, where we travel with a lone pilot. Ship critically damaged and failing as time passes. He needs a miracle. A real roller-coaster of a story.

Then on to The Maledict by Tim Gayda, an imaginative tale of panic around a fast-spreading plague, the rise of a sinister cult and one man’s single-minded determination to get to the truth, except that when he finds it, it doesn’t provide the simple solution he’d assumed.

This is followed by The Children of Zeus by Christopher Jarvis, an enthralling tale of two very different protagonists whose opposing philosophies are set to clash when they’re out at the edges of known space. Tension builds as it becomes clear what’s at stake.

Then a complete change in tempo and setting to Pinacotheca by Alexander G Saunders where a vast gallery of the universe’s most treasured art mysteriously vanishes. The story weaves beautifully evocative descriptions of this vast ship floating lost in space with a nail-biting narrative of the two traders who stumble upon it years later and unravel an incredible story.

Next we’re plunged back into the maelstrom of human emotion in Blood is Thicker by Ulla Susimets√§  where one woman’s thirst for vengeance blinds her to the impossibility of achieving her goal and the reader can only turn the pages with an ever-increasing sense of impending disaster.

This is beautifully mirrored by the next story, Beyond Civilisation by Marko Susimetsä which gives us another evocation of human emotion in a tale of power, disillusion, idealism and heroism around a half-forgotten settlement on the frontiers of known space.

After the roller-coaster of the previous duo, Cat’s Cradle by Rose Thurlbeck, is a perfect change of tempo; a gem of a story about a woman and her cat. But this is no ordinary woman. She pilots a starship and the cat goes with her.

The animal theme runs on into Nature’s Way by Gaz Bailey where we learn with resignation but without surprise that the trade in smuggled exotic wildlife still flourishes in the year 3300. The risks, however, have changed beyond recognition.

By this stage you will have forgotten that this whole anthology is in some senses a ‘book of the game’, because the prose will simply draw you into the vastness of the Elite universe, and captivate you with the stories of the people who live in it. But the next story swings close to that overall rationale. A Game of Death, by Allen L Farr, very cleverly interweaves the whole idea of computer gaming with life aboard an orbital scrap yard where family secrets are unexpectedly laid bare in a satisfyingly rounded tale.

Now we skip again from large cast to solo protagonist in Mission (almost) Completed by  Matthew D Benson. A commander returns from a successful mission but his life support systems are failing. As things become critical his hallucinations and flashbacks weave the story to its conclusion.

Then back at the edges of the known universe in Research Purposes by Fred Burbidge, salvage hunters discover a lost research facility, but they’re not the only ones with an eye on the hidden prize, which leads to an edge-of-seat adventure where death stalks them down the deserted corridors of the abandoned base.

The anthology ends (alas, alas, but it has to end) with the perfect story to round off such a choice collection. An Ode to Betty Cole by Nicholas Hansen is a wonderfully quirky and evocative mystery. Your senses will tingle with the crew of the ship as they receive a video transmission from the past.

The stories in this collection cover the gamut of human emotion; they range from serious nail-biting drama to laugh-out-loud funny. And as though to show this off as the best of the very best, every story is superbly illustrated by Arto Heikkinen.

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